One night before President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney were to hold their first presidential debate, Howard County's congressional representatives and their challengers had the opportunity to face off.
The candidates for Maryland's District 3 and District 7, which include parts of Howard, took turns answering questions at the Howard County League of Women Voters forum, held Tuesday at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
Congressional District 2 incumbent Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Republican candidate state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, of Harford County, did not attend the forum. Leo Wayne Dymowski, the District 2 Libertarian candidate from Baltimore County, gave brief remarks.
At times, it was a lot like a presidential debate, with candidates taking jabs at one another and crafting responses to questions without really answering them. However, the forum was also more formally structured, with candidates receiving no time for rebuttal, as they would in a typical debate.
Most heated was the exchange between District 7 incumbent Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, and his challenger Frank Mirabile, a Woodbine Republican.
For example, when the candidates were asked a question about what they would do to help resolve the partisan divide that exists in Congress, Cummings said he has a reputation for working across the aisle and that he believes in Congress.
"A lot of people are concentrating on the next election instead of the next generation," he said. "I'm going to continue to work hard with my colleagues"
Mirabile, who ran against and lost to Cummings in 2010, said Cummings has almost a 100-percent party-line voting record.
"That's not a person that wants to reach across the divide and make things happen," he said.
"It seems as if there was more concern about the next election, trying to make sure that this president had no successes," he said.
But Mirabile said Cummings is wrongly blaming Republicans for the gridlock that currently exists in Congress.
"The Republicans aren't obstructionists," he said. "It's actually the Senate (Majority) Leader Harry Reid."
Answering a question about campaign finance reform, Cummings said it's unfortunate that federal law has allowed for millionaires and billionaires to pump millions of dollars into campaigns through Super PACs and allowed the donations to go undisclosed.
Mirabile countered, accusing Cummings of being a hypocrite in saying he opposes the heavy donors from basically buying elections.
"If you look at his donor lists, it's a laundry list of big donors, mostly from public unions and union groups," he said.
Mirabile said social networking and the Internet allow people with lesser means to counter the ads from large donors. The information, he said, is readily available to voters.
"We all have the ability to do research and our own fact finding missions ... (to) search out the truth," he said. "It's readily available online."
The one point on which Cummings and Mirabile did agree was the effects the looming sequestration — $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts set to take place to the federal budget if Congress does not act to make its own cuts, as required by the legislation Congress passed last year to raise the debt ceiling — on Marylanders.
"It would be devastating," they both answered.